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Great Walstead School, Lindfield

This Mid Sussex co-ed prep and pre-prep lets children be children. A pupil-run farm is part of its outdoorsy focus.

What, Where?

This co-ed school of around 450 pupils aged two-and-a-half to 13 is in the pretty village of Lindfield, near Haywards Heath. Besides locally-raised children, it gains a lot of pupils from families relocating from London to Sussex’s commuter belt.

Set in over 260 acres, with woodland and lakes, it makes much use of its natural environment, with everything from mud kitchen play and teddy bears’ picnics to orienteering, to impromptu orchestra practice on the lawn.

Crops on the farm

The school has its own smallholding ‘Great Farmstead’ with goats, pigs, hens, quails and more in a walled Victorian garden. Much activity here is incorporated into lessons – wee ones watch chickens hatch and grow, while older children learn about sustainability and crop rotation, participate in solar power projects and the like.

A recent Egyptian day even saw pupils recreating historic herbal remedies. Produce from the farm also features in school meals – including, this year, a glut of strawberries.

There’s also an emphasis on good behaviour. ‘Kindness is the Walstead Way’ is a slogan that appears around the school.

Facilities

An indoor pool with a retractable roof, sports centre, all weather pitch, a music school, performing arts centre and a chapel with a stage are among facilities.

The schools have new libraries for the new term, including a wonderful looking woodland-themed reading area for pre-prep.

The extensive woods are used for activities from drama to World War One trench building.

Academic

That last ISI report graded the school’s academic achievement as ‘excellent’.

Destination schools include Ardingly College, Bedales, Brighton College, Burgess Hill Girls, Bede’s, Cranbrook, Charterhouse, Eastbourne College, Hurstpierpoint College and Lancing College.

Great Walstead works with the schools it commonly feeds into to help Year 9s prepare for GCSEs later down the track. It has a 100% success rate for pupils getting into the senior school of their choice. 235 children in the last 12 years have been awarded scholarships.

Great Walstead is selective, though the head says he is looking primarily for the right attitude – from parents as well as children. Those focused solely on academic achievement will not be a good fit.

Boarding and wraparound care

Day and weekly boarding are offered.

Mindful that both parents of its pupils are usually working, many in London, wraparound care is taken seriously at Great  Walstead. Purpose-built centre The Keep, separate from the main school building, is used as a base for this, from breakfast club at 7.45, to 6.00pm in the evening with tea if required. The Keep operates both term time and the school holidays. This summer it expanded with summer camps including gymnastics, forest school, multi-activity days, arts and crafts and other themes, with familiar staff running the days.

There’s a free toddler club on Thursday mornings during term time.

Street dance, sailing, horse riding and golf are among after-school clubs, along with more mainstream school sports, arts and crafts and ballet.

Head and school ethos

The new head, Chris Calvey, was previously head of Ardingly College Prep. In his first year he has set about putting a new set of values at the heart of Great Walstead called the 7 Cs. These are Collaboration, Communication, Creativity (which can include problem solving), Curiosity (including researching off curriculum), Craftmanship, Commitment and Confidence. Rather than focusing purely on attainment, the idea is to get children to think more about their attitudes, both to their work and to each other. House points, stickers, certificates and prizes can be earned.

From the new school year the 7 Cs will be used also as discussion points and in any dispute resolution. The head explains that a child won’t get a certificate for holding the door open for someone but they should get a verbal acknowledgement that the gesture is kind and caring.

The head says outdoor classes can be associated with special needs or smoothing the boisterous but he believes they benefit all. Great Walstead pupils are keen to pull on wellies and get outside at break time whatever the weather.

Though it is not overtly a faith school there is much talk of the Chrisitian ethos at Great Walstead and the school has a chapel.

Quirks

One of the Q Day camps

I visited on the much-anticipated Q Day at the end of term when years 7 and 8 get to camp out overnight in the school’s extensive woodland. Campfire lunches were sizzling and the teens were recounting tales of raiding each others camps the night before. It’s a decades long tradition and some of today’s pupils have grandparents who tell them that in the post-war years modified grenades used to be let off in the process! Nowadays party poppers are the health and safety limit.

The school also has an annual Outdoor Learning Day for all years. Pupils arrive to find classrooms sealed with police tape and every lessons transported outside.

Pre-prep helped hatch 30 chicks in an incubator this year. Chicken escapes are now all part of the fun of school life! Parents can get stuck in themselves at weekly farm sessions.

Hens outside the pre-prep classrooms

A pop-up campsite bookable by the public was run for the first time at the school this August.

Singing lessons for years three to six are new. The school works across age groups for certain projects, with for instance, years 6,7 and 8 putting on plays together.

On the sports side, the school has its own half marathon for older pupils.

The word on the ground

Parents particularly note the school’s outdoorsy focus, its moral code and emphasis on kindness.

Fees

Per term: Nursery £338 – £569 (depending on hours). Reception £2,685; Pre-prep £3,220 – £3,750; Prep £4,750 – £5,170.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Those who believe children should be allowed to be children. Kids with an adventurous, outdoorsy spirit. Parents conscious of behaviour and attitude as much as academic attainment. Excellent wraparound care and school holidays activities. There is an SEN provision for children with mild learning disabilities.

Not so good for: If you’re looking for a grand facility, hot-housing environment. Children who aren’t natural joiners and who shun outdoor play won’t get the best from the environment. If you want a strictly secular education. There’s currently no full boarding.

Dare to disagree? Book ahead for the next ‘school in action’ open morning at Great Walstead on Tues 9 Oct.

Great Walstead School, East Mascalls Lane, Lindfield, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 2QL, 01444 483528, greatwalstead.co.uk

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